How the Ukrainian resistance movement has responded to russia

A Ukrainian woman takes part in weapons training at a shooting range in Lviv in Ukraine in July 2022. Photo: Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A Ukrainian woman takes part in weapons training at a shooting range in Lviv in Ukraine in July 2022. Photo: Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Analysis: it’s clear that civilian resistance has proven to be of huge assistance to Ukrainian military forces in the war against Russia

In recent weeks, there have been numerous signs that there is a growing resistance movement emerging in Ukraine as a response to the ongoing Russian invasion. Within this, there has been photographic evidence (difficult to confirm) that some of the Ukrainian resistance have found inspiration in the 1984 movie Red Dawn.

Some readers may remember this classic B-Movie in which a motley crew of teenagers, who named themselves the Wolverines after their high school mascot, engaged in a resistance movement against a Russian invasion of the United States. In the canon of 1980s scare movies, it still has much to offer. From current-day Ukraine, we are seeing photographs of knocked-out Russian tanks and vehicles with the word “Wolverines” daubed on them in white letters, seemingly an example of popular culture being brought to the contemporary battlefield.

From BBC News, meet Ukraine’s ‘shadow army’ working behind Russian lines to free Kherson

Whether the current generation of Ukrainian fighters are indeed being inspired by a nearly 40-year-old movie is debatable. What is certain is that the spirit of resistance is deeply encoded in the Ukrainian DNA. During the Second World War, there was a significant partisan movement in Ukraine. Often referred to under the collective title of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, there was an array of partisan groups, many emerging from Ukrainian nationalist political movements.

Over 300,000 fighters served in Ukrainian partisan groups during the war, and they engaged in campaigns against the Germans, Soviet forces and also Polish forces. Some partisan units were implicated in anti-Semitic activity and the ethnic cleansing of Poles from Ukrainian territory. It is estimated that over 150,000 Ukrainian partisans died during the war.

Given this historic tradition of partisan warfare, it is perhaps unsurprising that the modern Ukrainian army provided resistance training to both members of their territorial forces and the civilian population as tensions increased after 2014.

From RTÉ Radio 1’s Brendan O’Connor Show in February 2022, Lindsey Hilsum from Channel 4 News on how invading Russian forces met stiff stiff resistance from Ukrainian troops and citizens

This training extended to the publication of “guides to guerrilla warfare” following patterns established during WW2. This advice covered how to engage in various levels of resistance activity, from low-level actions such as sabotaging vehicles, interfering with road signposts, engaging in intimidatory graffiti campaigns and generally being a difficult civilian within the occupied community.

Further up the scale of resistance, modern phone technology greatly facilitates intelligence gathering and images captured through discreet filming can be sent back to Ukrainian army command posts. In a similar vein, basic communications equipment can facilitate the transmission of Russian troop locations to Ukrainian artillery targeting teams.

Even civilian drone equipment is hugely valuable in this space. One of the emerging trends in this new paradigm war is how everyday technology can create a true force-multiplier. Last Sunday (July 31st) saw a drone attack on Russian Navy Day celebrations at the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol in the Crimea. Early indications would suggest that this was civilian drone that had been weaponised with a small amount of explosive and was launched from within Sevastopol itself.

From MSNBC, Ken Dilanian reports on the effectiveness of Ukraine’s “cheap drones” after the successful weekend attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet HQ in the Crimea

The attack injured several Russian personnel and is a prime example of how small resistance groups are utilising readily available drone technology. In the cyber realm, we can also see significant activity developing that falls within wider patterns of resistane, though it is difficult to quantify currently just how much of this cyber activity is taking place.

At the upper end of the resistance warfare spectrum, there is actual kinetic combat and evidence would suggest that the Ukrainian resistors are engaging in small-scale but highly targeted operations. There have been attacks on Russian vehicles and troops and these have utilised weapons that had been previously cached or which were transported through the lines into Russian occupied zones.

One of the activities of the resistors has been to identify those who have decided to co-operate with Russian forces and there have been attacks on individuals who have been identified as “collaborators”. We also know that some experts on urban warfare have visited Ukraine to share their expertise with front line troops and territorial forces.

There are traditionally three distinct groups in play within resistance movements. Firstly, there are members of the local population who have decided to remain and resist occupation, quite often focusing on intelligence gathering and using tactics at the lower end of the resistance spectrum.

Secondly, members of local territorial forces and police can blend into the population and operate as “stay-behind” units. Their activities tend to be more kinetic and have often been pre-planned before the conflict breaks out. During the Cold War, the deployment of “stay-behind” units formed a significant part of NATO defence planning. Finally, it is also usual to try to support the two cohorts above by inserting special forces teams into the occupied zone. It would seem that all three of these groupings are operating in Ukraine at present in occupied territories.

For the resistors, this kind of activity is obviously a high-risk one. Historically, casualties among resistance and partisan groups have been high. There is mounting evidence of Russian counter-partisan activity and reports of the round-up of suspects and their subsequent interrogation, torture and execution.

Many armies are now considering how the spirit of resistance might be fostered as part of a wider defensive plan in the future

One of the main locations for resistance activity has been the city of Kherson, which at present is the objective of a developing Ukrainian counter offensive. As the fighting for Kherson intensifies, we can expect resistance activity to ramp up and to see Russian counter measures. Ultimately, this is another facet of a failed military strategy: no sensible military commander would develop a plan in which descending into the visceral realm of resistance and counter-resistance warfare was a possibility.

The sphere of resistance operations has seen a developing conversation in recent years. For example, post-2014, some of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries have begun a national conversation focusing on developing societal resilience while also discussing the possible future need for a national resistance concept. It could be argued that there has been a lot of this type of resistance/insurgent activity in the various conflicts of the early 21st century and we saw examples of this in Iraq and Syria. What is new is the emergence of this type of military activity in a European context and many militaries are now considering how the spirit of resistance might be fostered as part of a wider defensive plan in the future.

By David Murphy,

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